Ciaran Kilduff celebrates with his teammates after scoring against Shamrock Rovers. Picture: Ciaran Culligan
Stephen Kenny confessed that he was reluctant to play Michael Duffy and Ciaran Kilduff against Shamrock Rovers but the gamble paid off as the duo played a major part in the 2-1 victory over the Hoops on Friday night.
Both players had to undergo a late fitness test prior to kick-off and their participation proved to be vital with Duffy supplying the opening goal for Robbie Benson and Kilduff heading home what proved to be the winner.
“It was a pressure game for us and our preparations weren't good because of the injuries that we had,” said Kenny.
“Three of the starters - Duffy, Kilduff and Stephen O’Donnell - didn’t train with the team at all yesterday.
"Normally I wouldn’t play players if they don’t train the day before a game so it was one of those that we just needed to get through with a win.
“Kilduff got off a stretcher,” he continued. “He was ruled out by the doctor earlier in the week but insisted on playing and ended up getting the winner, which showed his character.”
Many people were questioning the desire within the Lilywhites dressing room in the build-up to the game and Kenny felt his players responded with an emphatic answer.
"I think the performance answered any questions in terms of the team’s hunger," he said.
"It was a very competitive game. There was a needle in it, which is fair enough, and it was important for us to keep our discipline.
"That has been paramount to our success. It’s very much part of the psyche of the team and it’s very important that no player lets the others down. That’s very much part of the ethos of the group."
The victory came at a cost. Benson finished the game with a knock while O’Donnell was withdrawn in the 67th minute and is doubtful for next weekend’s trip to Sligo. Of more concern, however, is the news that Patrick McEleney will undergo an x-ray after damaging his foot.
“We’re not normally noted for having injuries but that can happen from time to time in football.
"We just have to try and come through it and win as many matches as possible,” Kenny remarked.
David McMillan, Chris Shields and Gary Rogers are weeks, rather than days, away from making a return but Kenny feels he has a squad strong enough to cope with their absence.
“We’ve got a very united group," he declared. "Some of the players that are coming in have to understand the way we work as a club and the values that we have. They’ve got a settling in period but I think they will add to the team.
“Tonight was a real test for us,” he added. “We were missing our top goalscorer from last year, our goalkeeper and one of our midfield players, Chris Shields. And then you have to consider the players we lost as such as O’Donnell.”
“Shamrock Rovers had a good pre-season and won all of their games. They approached tonight with confidence and were buoyant so it was good to win the game.
“It was very frenetic and derby-esque at times and the first goal was very important. I felt we were the better side but there is still room for us to be far better than what we were.
“We weren’t convincing in the last 15 minutes and we should’ve been better than we were, but everyone rallied around each other.
"Our overall quality has to improve in certain areas and we will work on that over the next few weeks.”